Ashley Marie Cowan, a Pre-Occupational Healthcare student from Adairsville, has been named Georgia Northwestern Technical College’s (GNTC) 2024 Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership (GOAL) winner, and Deanna Hulsey, instructor of Cosmetology, has been named the college’s 2024 Rick Perkins Instructor of the Year. 

The winners were named during the Seven Hills Rotary Club meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 30, at the Courtyard by Marriott in Rome. The awards were sponsored and presented by the Rome Floyd Chamber, the Seven Hills Rotary Club of Rome and GNTC.

Erika Ambrocio Greenwell, a resident of Silver Creek, was recognized during the banquet as recipient of GNTC’s 2024 EAGLE (Exceptional Adult Georgian in Literacy Education) Award for superior achievement in Adult Education classes and programs. She will represent GNTC at the Dinah Culbreath Wayne EAGLE Leadership Institute state competition on March 25-27 at the Crowne Plaza Atlanta Perimeter at Ravinia.

“EAGLE is the first statewide program in the nation that recognizes and rewards excellence among students enrolled in Adult Education programs,” said Dr. Heidi Popham, GNTC president.

Karen Craven, lead teacher and site manager for Adult Education in Floyd County, was also recognized as GNTC’s Adult Education Teacher of the Year for 2024. Craven received the same honor in 2023.

“The Outstanding Teacher of the Year recognizes and honors Adult Education teachers who makes significant contributions to the fields of instruction, innovation and leadership,” Popham said.

Cowan, GNTC’s GOAL winner, attends classes on GNTC’s Floyd County Campus in Rome. She was nominated by Brittany Cochran, assistant dean of Sciences and instructor of Biology at GNTC.

“What truly distinguishes Ashley Marie is her exceptional work ethic and commitment to going above and beyond expectations,” Cochran said. “She actively seeks out additional resources, engages in thoughtful discussions and consistently contributes to a positive and collaborative learning environment. Her willingness to explore advanced topics and tackle complex problems showcases her intellectual curiosity and passion for the subject matter.”

Cochran said she praised Cowan’s “remarkable disposition that has left a lasting impression on both her peers and instructors,” positive attitude, resilience, perseverance in the face of academic rigor and leadership ability. Cowan possesses effective communication skills, collaborates with classmates and contributes constructively to class discussions.

Following her parents’ divorce, when she was a young child, Cowan lived with her father in New York. “During that time, I was beaten, scarred and sold so that my father could afford his drug habit,” Cowan said.

“If it wasn’t for my father’s mistreatment, I would never have realized my passion for helping people,” Cowan said.

When she went to live in Tennessee with her mother who had remarried, her step-father did not welcome her; eventually her mother kicked her out of the house for the first time at age 17, Cowan said. Her friends, their parents and her coworkers helped her through that difficult time.

“I had to break the cycle,” Cowan said. “I was looking for my reset button. I found it here when I moved to Georgia.”

Her boyfriend, a student at GNTC, told her about the college, and she will never regret her decision to apply, she said.

“Going to GNTC has provided me with so many outlets and so many opportunities that I would never have thought would have been provided for me in my situation,” Cowan said.

As the 2024 GOAL winner for GNTC, Cowan will move to the regional competition. If chosen as a regional winner, she will compete at the state level against regional winners from the other regions of Georgia.

A panel of leaders from business, industry and government will choose the Technical College System of Georgia’s (TCSG) GOAL winner for 2024 and recipient of the GOAL medallion. The 2024 Student of the Year and state GOAL winner will serve as TCSG’s student ambassador during a number of system and college functions throughout the year.

Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia will award a new automobile as the grand prize to the state GOAL winner.

The Rick Perkins Award honors the TCSG’s most outstanding instructors. The award has been an ongoing statewide event since 1991 and recognizes technical college instructors who make significant contributions to technical education through innovation and leadership in their fields.

Hulsey, a Rome resident, is a Georgia Licensed Master Cosmetologist. She received her diploma in Cosmetology from GNTC in 2011 and has been an instructor at GNTC since 2014. She has taught Dual Enrollment high school students and adult students.

Hulsey said she left high school after becoming pregnant and received her GED® diploma at GNTC. After enduring years of abuse by her children’s father and a harrowing incident when he held them hostage, she fled with her two daughters and never returned.

Feeling grateful to have survived when many domestic violence victims do not, she decided to return to GNTC to study Cosmetology.

“I wanted to do work that would bring me joy and give others joy as well,” she said.

She loved Cosmetology, took her state board exam exam immediately after graduating and went to work in a salon, she said.

“Technical education opened doors for me that made my dreams obtainable in my situation,” Hulsey said. “Getting an education made me feel worthy again and showed me how to not just survive, as I had for so many years, but how to truly live.”

Hulsey said she looked to her own single-mother for inspiration, explaining that “she taught us that perseverance opens doors that circumstances cannot.” She hopes her story can also inspire others.

“I teach because I want my students to feel worthy and to know that regardless of what their past looks like, they are valued and have a purpose—that it does get better,” she said. “I want them to know someone cares about them and wants them to have the future they have always dreamed of and to know that the goal is not survival, it’s building a life that brings you joy.”

Hulsey has been active in her community, including assisting victims of domestic abuse to obtain protective orders if they did not have an advocate and needed help, she said. She has also supported Penfield Addiction Ministries to sponsor recovering addicts who cannot afford rehabilitation costs. 

Hulsey has sponsored children for Christmas through the Rome branch of the Salvation Army. She has also sponsored a single-parent family every Christmas, most recently raising more than $3,000 to assist a family without a vehicle to purchase one.

Hulsey has also donated her hair and makeup services, as well as salon products, for various fundraisers in the community.

Hulsey will represent the college as GNTC’s 2024 Rick Perkins winner and move on to the regional competition, vying for the opportunity to compete at the state level in the competition.

A panel of leaders from business, industry and government will choose one instructor to be TCSG’s 2024 Rick Perkins Instructor of the Year. The winner will receive a $2,500 cash prize.

The Rick Perkins Award winner serves as an ambassador for technical education in Georgia and will make many public appearances throughout the year, including addressing both chambers of the Georgia General Assembly.

The most recent state winners to represent GNTC were 2019 Rick Perkins Award winner Leyner Argueta, program director of Business Management, and 2013 winner Troy Peco, a former GNTC faculty member who served as assistant dean of Industrial Technologies, program director and instructor of Automotive Technology.

Georgia Northwestern Technical College provides quality workforce education to the citizens of northwest Georgia. Students have the opportunity to earn an associate degree, diploma or a certificate in aviation, business, health, industrial or public service career paths. This past year, 11,601 people benefited from GNTC’s credit and noncredit programs. GNTC has an annual credit enrollment of 8,071 students and an additional enrollment of 3,530 people through adult education, continuing education, business and industry training and Georgia Quick Start. For more information about GNTC, visit us at GNTC is a unit of the Technical College System of Georgia and an Equal Opportunity Institution.